I’ve been baking. I absolutely love sweets. Cookies, cakes, pastries, pies. I even went through a short phase in middle school where I wondered if I should be a cake decorator. All of this was amplified, however, when I adopted a vegan diet a couple years ago. I decided that if I couldn’t get my favorite muffins at my favorite bakery, I would just have to make them myself. So I did.
I started with chocolate chip cookies and very quickly perfected a simple recipe. It’s become my go to. For events, for birthdays, for mailing them to friends who have Zoom weddings. I always have the ingredients in my pantry and can make them in my sleep. Quite simply put, these chocolate chip cookies are classic—yes, even for non-vegans!
And as much as I love my chocolate chip cookies, I’ve found great joy, lately, in experimenting. When a colleague asked me which side of the New York famous ‘black and white cookie’ I bit into first, I was so frazzled by not having a definitive answer, I made an entire batch to find out. (Turns out I like the vanilla side more so I eat the chocolate first so I can end on my favorite. But my very first bite? Always a little bit of both.)
Now the riddle aside, the black and white cookies were just alright. Not my favorite and probably not a recipe I’d repeat. Definitely not better than my chocolate chip cookies. But a fun treat nonetheless. And so it goes that I’ve tried making lots of new desserts—some met with delicious results. Others, not so much.
I recently made a burnt almond torte. Readers who grew up in or around the Pittsburgh area will be familiar with this layer cake. It was one of my grandfather’s favorites and for a while, a staple at family birthdays or celebrations. I was looking at my handiwork, from the caramelized toasted almonds to the homemade frosting, and feeling very fancy. It was tasty and pretty (and vegan)! Hook, line, sinker. And it made me think of how far I’ve come since chocolate chip cookies.
But then I remembered the Hohos. A few months ago, in a spur of nostalgia, I decided to remake a favorite childhood treat. Because of a few missing ingredients and an extreme lack of attention to detail, I started combining multiple recipes and essentially improvising. I ended up with chocolate smeared across my nose and the gloopiest, grossest looking pile of Swiss roll cake you can possibly imagine. (Can you find it in the gallery down below?) They weren’t totally inedible. But they weren’t a good time either.
Definitely would have been better off making chocolate chip cookies that day.
And all of these explorations in blueberry stains and baking soda have made me realize that there is a time and place for chocolate chip cookies. For reliability. For security. For coming home to something you feel confident in.
And at the same time. There is a time for flawlessly executed burnt almond torte and ridiculously disastrous Hohos. Because while the former left me with a new “fancy dinner party recipe” and a boost in confidence, the latter was a humbling miscalculation and something that made me laugh harder than I thought possible. It felt really important… to be bold and try something new… even if you could almost guarantee it wasn’t going to end perfectly.
So don’t get me wrong. There’s a time and place for chocolate chip cookies. But if all you do is go through the motions of the things you know you’re good at, you’re holding yourself back from some big growth opportunities.
So burn the chocolate. Overbake the brownies. Spill the sugar. It might not be something you repeat. But it’s something you’ll learn from. And that experience in and of itself, makes the adventure all the more worthwhile.